You like to shoot race photos, but those uptight track officials won't let you get out on the track in your '89 Olds and get some up-close shots of the action? No problem!
The nice folks at MSR Houston allowed me to suit up and strap into the passenger seat of the Pike's Peak-winning Rally Ready Evo, enabling me to get some great on-track shots of the Yeehaw It's Texas '08 24 Hours Of LeMons. Unfortunately, I won't always have access to a 600-horsepower race car with a pro driver who's willing to risk his high-buck machine on a track full of $500 heaps. What I needed was a cheap digital camera with a timelapse feature- just bolt it onto some
sucker's volunteer's LeMons racer and let it capture action shots at regular intervals!
A bit of online research led me to the Kodak DC290 Zoom, a late-1990s-vintage 2-megapixel camera that bears about as much resemblance to current cameras as the Dynatac "brick" cellphone does to modern-day phones. It's a real antique, but you can get one for dirt cheap and it has a timelapse feature that will make it take a photograph every minute.
Once my new camera arrived, I spent several minutes making a crude bracket out of a slab of 2x4, some drywall screws, and a handful of zipties. At the track, I convinced the guys on the Mustard Yellow V8olvo to let me bolt this contraption onto their car's rear bumper. A couple of 3/8" bolts held the bracket to the bumper; the zipties around the bumper were just insurance. When the race got going, I started the camera and hoped for the best. Would the batteries last long enough to fill up the camera's 256MB CompactFlash card with usable action shots? Would the camera refuse to function after a few minutes of bumps and vibration?
LeMons races have been quite clean in the post-Altamont era, so I wasn't too worried about the camera getting bashed by another car… but that's just what happened, just a couple of hours into the race. Some driver whacked his crapcan's snout into the V8olvo's bumper, and the camera disappeared somewhere near the section of track they call the "Bus Stop." When the V8olvo rolled into the Penalty Box after the incident with the camera bracket empty, I was almost too distraught to dish out appropriate justice to the miscreants.
With 7 hours left to go in the race, I wouldn't be able to hit the track and search for the camera for quite a while. I didn't care about the camera, which I assumed would be run over several thousand times as it baked on the hot tarmac all day, but I figured that the CF card might survive such abuse. Once the day's race session was over and the track was empty (save the usual mini-junkyard of bumpers, fenders, connecting rods, etc. you always find dumped on the asphalt during a LeMons race), the LeMons Supreme Court hopped into the LeMons Highway De-Beautification Department's F250 and headed for the Bus Stop. Would we find the camera?
Yes! Obviously, the fact that you're seeing these photos indicates that our search was successful. LeMons Supreme Court Justice Lieberman spotted the Kodak in the weeds about 50 feet from the track. The camera hadn't been run over, still powered up (though the LCD display was broken), and had some decent photos on the card!
What's next for LeMons BumperCam technology? For LeMons South next month, I've picked up a cheap Canon A460, and I'll be installing the free CHDK software created by some firmware hackers for Canon Powershots. CHDK uses simple scripts written with a version of the BASIC programming language, and it's pretty easy to get an intervalometer feature going on the A460. This time I'll put a little more time into camera mount construction (no 2x4s this time), too. We'll see how well my new setup works in the real world!
LeMons BumperCam Images, Part 1:
LeMons BumperCam Images, Part 2: